Target Grade Level/Age Range:

5- 12th grade Science or Social Studies


30 minutes - 2 hours (depending on depth)


Students will learn about water quality and ways to improve practices because humans, plants, and animals need clean water to live. 


  • Game Cards (Print on Cardstock and cut it out)
  • Hero Cards (Print front and back on Cardstock and cut them out. Be sure to let the printer know the weight of the cardstock, otherwise they will not print front and back correctly)
  • Villain Cards (Print front and back on Cardstock and cut them out. Be sure to let the printer know the weight of the cardstock, otherwise they will not print front and back correctly)
  • Game Board (Recommended Printing on 11 X 17 paper)
  • Pollution Track (Optional)
  • Paper Clip
  • 6 Different Colored Pogs (or small tokens to act as player tokens)
  • Rule Sheet and Game Instructions 

Suggested Companion Resources (books and websites):


  • Cover Crop: crops that absorb and store nutrients which reduce the risk of these nutrients to leach or runoff into the soil
  • Buffer Strip: areas near waterways in fields that slow water that runs off and helps hold soil in place to prevent erosion of topsoil
  • Bioreactor: excavated pits filled with woodchips that filter tile drainage water. As Water from the tile line passes through the woodchips, denitrifying bacteria converts nitrates in the tile water into di-nitrogen gas.
  • Pollinator Garden: support and maintain pollinators by supplying food in the form of pollen and nectar that will ensure that these important animals stay in the area to keep pollinating our crops for continued fruit and vegetable production
  • Controlled Burn: also known as prescribed burn, a managed fire that allows wanted species to grow while reducing the number of unwanted species
  • Runoff: the part of precipitation, snow melt, or irrigation water that appears in uncontrolled surface streams, rivers, drains, or sewers. 
  • Erosion: the geological process in which earthen materials are worn away and transported by natural forces such as wind or water 
  • Dead Zone: when less oxygen is dissolved in the water causing marine life to leave the area or die
    Invasive Species: a non-native organism that causes harm to the habitat or environment it is in
  • Conservation: the act of protecting Earth’s natural resources for current and future generations
  • Restoration: continual improvement of degraded land and water resources 
  • Alternative Energy: energy that is created from sources that do not use natural resources or harm the environment energy
  • Advocate: a person that recommends or supports a cause publicly

Background – Agricultural Connections (what would a teacher need to know to be able to teach this content):

  • This game is a European style game built to support 2-5 students and to encourage brainstorming of various environmental problems and issues within their area. The game is to also begin the brainstorming of environmental actions that individuals and a group may take to help with an environmental issue. 
  • About the Heroes
    1. Each Hero card is based on an ecological practice that farmers, conservationists, or other individuals carry out to help combat environmental issues. Below are the different Heros and an explanation that can be used in the classroom to help students connect to science concepts: 
      • Buffy the Nutrient Slayer: this hero is based on a buffer strip. These areas are normally planted in farm fields near waterways and may contain native prairie grasses or other types of grasses. The purpose of a buffer strip is to slow water that runs off a field to utilize the root system. As the water is slowed down the roots are provided time to absorb varying nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrates that are in the field soil preventing these nutrients from entering waterways (such as phosphorus and nitrates). Buffer strips also help to hold soil in place to prevent erosion of topsoil which can cause waterways to decrease in light transparency or dam up water ways if too much soil is caught in one area. 
      • Nectravore: this hero is based on a pollinator garden. Pollinators such as bees, moths, birds, and other animals are important to our food supply. We depend on pollinators for many of our fruits and vegetables, and for honey. When planting a pollinator garden, new habitat is created and animals that help with pollination are encouraged to fulfill their niche. In turn, this also helps farmers and the average consumer to obtain food. Pollinator gardens also help water quality by slowing the flow of water, covering soil to prevent erosion, and giving educational opportunities. 
      • Cropidash Radish: this hero is based on cover crops. The use of this conservation practice allows farmers to cover their land in the winter which aids in strong nutrients while increasing biomatter in their fields. By planting a crop in the off-seasons, farmers reduce erosion of topsoil and prevent sediment in waterways. Cover crops such as winter radishes are known as trap crops, meaning they absorb and store nutrients which reduces the risk of these nutrients to leaching or runoff into water. 
      • Phoenixflare: this hero is based on controlled burns which help with prairie restoration, grazing areas for livestock, and oil spills. When a controlled burn, or prescribed burn, is used in prairie land, or on grazeland, it provides an opportunity for wanted species to grow while reducing the number of unwanted species. This causes habitat for many species and fresh grass for livestock. Prairie lands are also known to help with decreasing greenhouse gases which are contributors to climate change, thus, by increasing healthy prairies there can be a reduction in green houses gases. Controlled burns also help with the clean-up of oil spills to reduce the damage to the environment.  
      • HydroMax: this hero is based on the need to wash equipment with water after using them. Many organisms live in water, and they are always looking for a place to hide. By washing a boat or other water equipment (such as swimsuits and flotation devices) before leaving a designated water area an individual can reduce the spread of water invasive species. 
      • Righteous Azoto: this hero is based on a bioreactor. This conservation farming practice is long-term and happens beneath the surface as water exits a field. Within a bioreactor, there are wood chips and cultures of bacteria. The water that is exiting a field goes through the bioreactor and the bacteria use a process known as denitrification to convert nitrates into di-nitrogen gas reducing the number of nitrates that enter the water systems. 
  • About the Villains
    • Each Villain is based on current environmental issues that are affecting water. These issues have varying players that are involved, all of which have different motivators. Through the use of the Villains students can gather an introduction to varying issues within their area and worldwide. Below are short explanations of each Villain the issue they are based on: 
      • The Eroder: this villain is based on erosion. This occurs when water runs over soil, rocks, and other parts of the land shaping it. Erosion is a problem in farm fields and along the riverbanks when soil moves into the water way. In turn, this can cause problems with light infiltration of water and lower the integrity of land formations causing other issues. Erosion can also occur through the movement of wind as it blows over land and moves other objects around. An example of historic wind erosion is the Dust Bowl. 
      • Dr. Bloom: this villain is based on runoff and nutrient pollution. This type of environmental problem occurs from cities, farms, homeowners, and factories dumping intentionally or unintentionally into waterways. These various nutrients and chemicals can lead to algae blooms, fish kills, plant booms or degradation, and other organism death. 
      • Raider and Looter: this villain is based on aquatic and terrestrial invasive species. An invasive species is a non-native organism that causes harm to the habitat or environment it is in. Since these species are new to habitat, they have few or no predators but plenty of food. This causes their population to skyrocket and leads to native species having trouble staying alive. Invasive species can cause new disease outbreaks, altered ecosystems, and environmental damage to crops, animals, and farmland. Though we can help to prevent these organisms, once in a habitat they are expensive and hard to get rid of. 
      • Crudella: this villain is based on an oil spill and the different types of oils that can be involved in a spill. Oil spills can happen on both land and in aquatic environments. These occur when a malfunction of equipment occurs and leaks large amounts of oil. This oil can cause damage to animals as it gets into their lungs, gills, or bodies. It also creates problems with aquatic and terrestrial plants as oil covers leaves and reduces the number of positive nutrients that the plant can absorb. Oil spills can lead to explosions and fires on land and in aquatic environments. Oil pipelines can also produce complications for wetlands, as they are disturbed during construction.
      • Dead Zone: this villain is based on the Gulf of Mexico dead zone. These areas are created when soil nutrients (fertilizer) run-off or leach into local waterways. Local waterways flow into larger waterways in the Midwest and Central U.S. leading to the Mississippi River. This river feeds into the Gulf of Mexico. Nitrates and phosphorus are two of the main nutrients that have caused the dead zone. Though nitrates can break down and dissolve into the atmosphere, phosphorus stays within the ocean sediment. Phosphorus is a promoter of plant growth. Large amounts of plant growth within aquatic areas can decrease oxygen, increase water temperatures, and decrease light to other organisms within the aquatic habitat. In turn, this limits the amount of life in that area.  Farmers are utilizing various conservation practices such as buffer strips, cover crops, filter strips, and various others to lower the amount of nutrient runoff and leaching. 
      • Plasticwerewolfe: this villain is based on plastic pollution. Single-use plastics such as bags, straws, and styrofoam have been found in all parts of the world, even in areas where humans have not settled. Overtime these plastics break down releasing chemicals into the water and creating smaller pieces. These small pieces can be eaten by fish and birds causing death or digestive problems. In other cases, plastics have caused the entrapment of animals to change their growth and ability to live. The plastics that make their way into the ocean tend to end up in 5 different places, known as garbage patches, due to ocean currents.

Interest Approach or Motivator:

  • Before Starting the Lesson:
    • Gather supplies from the materials list above. Organize the class into groups of 2-5 students. Give each student group a WaterSavers! game board and game pieces listed in the Materials section. (TIP: Larger groups (5) will complete the game quicker and with more success than a small group of students)
  • Read the Lore Story to the students or have them read it within their game playing groups.
  • Review the Rules Sheet and Game Instructions together as a class. If needed, see the modification options below. 
  • Introduce students to the Villains (environmental issues) and Heroes (sustainable farming practices to help combat environmental issues) in the game.


  1. Instruct students to play the game. As they play, encourage them to think about how they are defeating the Villains and how it relates to their everyday lives. Students should also be reminded to think about how this activity connects to big ideas.
  2. Following the game, discuss any of the following with students. Keep track of their answers on the board:
    • What motivations did you, as the player, experience while you played the game? If you were put in your Hero’s shoes, do your motivators change?
    • Who were the different Villains? Do you think this Villain lives on Earth? How might these Villains represent issues in our community? Could the Villains represent environmental issues and/or problems?
    • Could these Heroes live on Earth? Do you think the Heroes could be found in our community? Do they represent things near us? How might these Heroes be examples of players?
    • Why do you think the game designers chose to represent Environmental Actions through the cards like they did?
  3. Ask the students, "What do you know about watersheds?" (they were mentioned in the game) Make a list on the board of what students said. 
  4. Then watch the What is a Watershed video. Return to students answers on the board and ask them if there is anything they'd like to add now that they watched the video.
  5. Conclude by asking the students to make connections between one of the Villain cards (environmental issues) and/or one of the Hero cards (sustainable farming practices) and the importance of healthy watershed in our communities. 

Optional Extension Activity:

  1. Discover what is happening in your local watershed by using the lesson, What’s Happening in my Watershed (lesson created by Barb Ehlers, Upper Iowa University- Eii), and connecting to one of the Villains (environmental issues) and/or Heroes (sustainable farming practices). 
  2. Then transition into the Eii Action Sheet (note: this sheet is filled in with an example, you will want to empty the boxes). As a group, students work together using their knowledge gained from the game to determine ways that they could take action to help solve an environmental issue in their community.
  3. As a class, produce an action plan to take on a water quality issue in their area.
  4. Use the discussion with students to determine their individual and group connections. 
  5. As students play the game, observe their teamwork and ability to follow rules. Make note of anyone that may need more help, or any group that is excelling. Provide these groups with varying modifications to the game (Found Below). 
  6. The Action Sheet may be collected to help observe student ideas and to promote class action.

Modifications Based on Students’ Age: 

  • For younger students:
    1. Remove the Crisis and Event cards or lower the number of them within the deck. 
  • For students with prior knowledge of environmental issues:
    1. Have the students create their own crisis, Hero, or Villain 
  • Students can survey their neighborhood/surrounding area for farming practices that are helpful or harmful to water quality and look for areas that may have an increased amount of nutrients.
  • Encourage students to explore what goes into their water or where their water comes from (this is a good place to also include the water cycle/nitrogen cycle).
  • Expand student understanding by having them design a buffer strip, or other sustainable farming practices, that will also increase biodiversity. 

Essential Files (maps, charts, pictures, or documents):

  • Game Cards (Print on Cardstock and cut it out)
  • Hero Cards (Print front and back on Cardstock and cut them out. Be sure to let the printer know the weight of the cardstock, otherwise they will not print front and back correctly)
  • Villain Cards (Print front and back on Cardstock and cut them out. Be sure to let the printer know the weight of the cardstock, otherwise they will not print front and back correctly)
  • Game Board (Recommended Printing on 11 X 17 paper)
  • Pollution Track (Optional) 
  • Rule Sheet and Game Instructions 

Did you know? (Ag Facts):

  • There were 2.71 million acres of cover crops planted in 2019
  • On average, there are 5.8 tons of soil per acre per year lost to erosion.
  • Soil erosion has decreased 35% between 1982 and 2017.

Extension Activities (how students can carry this beyond the classroom):

  • Have a visit from the local Soil and Water Conservation District or Natural Resources Conservation Service
  • Host a FarmChat® with a farmer that utilizes conservation practices


  • Upper Iowa University – Environmental Issues Instruction (EII)
  • This project has been funded wholly or in part by the United States Environmental Protection Agency under assistance agreement NE97783101 to Upper Iowa University. The contents of this document do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Environmental Protection Agency, nor does the EPA endorse trade names or recommend the

    use of commercial products mentioned in this document.


  • Cathryn Carney, IALF
  • Dylan Jacobson, Artist
  • Jeff Monteith, New Hampton CSD

National Agriculture Literacy Outcomes:

  • T1.K-2.b. Describe the importance of soil and water in raising crops and livestock
  • T1.3-5.c. Identify land and water conservation methods used in farming systems (wind barriers, conservation tillage, laser leveling, GPS planting, etc.)
  • T1.6-8.b. Describe benefits and challenges of using conservation practices for natural resources (e.g., soil, water, and forests), in agricultural systems which impact water, air, and soil quality
  • T1.6-8.c. Discover how natural resources are used and conserved in agriculture (e.g., soil conservation, water conservation)
  • T1.9-12.b. Describe resource and conservation management practices used in agricultural systems (e.g., riparian management, rotational grazing, no till farming, crop and variety selection, wildlife management, timber harvesting techniques)

Iowa Core Standards:

  • 3-5:
    • 3-5-ETS1-2. Generate and compare multiple possible solutions to a problem based on how well each is likely to meet the criteria and constraints of the problem.
    • 3-5-ETS1-3. Plan and carry out fair tests in which variables are controlled and failure points are considered to identify aspects of a model or prototype that can be improved.
    • 5-ESS3-1: Obtain and combine information about ways individual communities use science ideas to protect the Earth’s resources and environment.
  • Middle School:
    • MS-ESS3-2. Analyze and interpret data on natural hazards to forecast future catastrophic events and inform the development of technologies to mitigate their effects
    • MS-PS1-3. Gather and make sense of information to describe that synthetic materials come from natural resources and impact society
    • MS-ESS3-3. Apply scientific principles to design a method for monitoring and minimizing a human impact on the environment.
    • MS-LS2-5. Evaluate competing design solutions for maintaining biodiversity and ecosystem services.
    • MS-ETS1-1. Define the criteria and constraints of a design problem with sufficient precision to ensure a successful solution, taking into account relevant scientific principles and potential impacts on people and the natural environment that may limit possible solutions.
    • MS-ETS1-2. Evaluate competing design solutions using a systematic process to determine how well they meet the criteria and constraints of the problem.
  • High School:
    • HS-ESS3-1. Construct an explanation based on evidence for how the availability of natural resources, occurrence of natural hazards, and changes in climate have influenced human activity.
    • HS-ESS3-2. Evaluate competing design solutions for developing, managing, and utilizing energy and mineral resources based on cost-benefit ratios.*
    • HS-ESS3-4. Evaluate or refine a technological solution that reduces impacts of human activities on natural systems.
    • HS-ESS3-6. Use a computational representation to illustrate the relationships among Earth systems and how those relationships are being modified due to human activity.
    • HS-ETS1-1. Analyze a major global challenge to specify qualitative and quantitative criteria and constraints for solutions that account for societal needs and wants.
    • HS-ETS1-2. Design a solution to a complex real-world problem by breaking it down into smaller, more manageable problems that can be solved through engineering.
    • HS-ETS1-3. Evaluate a solution to a complex real-world problem based on prioritized criteria and trade-offs that account for a range of constraints, including cost, safety, reliability, and aesthetics as well as possible social, cultural, and environmental impacts.

Iowa Social Studies Standards: 

  • SS.5.19. Create geographic representations to illustrate how cultural and environmental characteristics of a region impacted a historical event.